|Threatened and Endangered Species
When Canada enacted the federal Species at Risk Act in June 2003 to address mounting threats to Canada’s endangered species, it was an important day for wildlife protection in North America.
However, Key weaknesses in the Act, exacerbated by shallow federal implementation, have reduced the Act’s effectiveness in four ways.
2. SARA protection of critical habitat is too limited and arrives too late.
Approximately 75% of COSEWIC-listed species have been put at risk by loss or degradation of their habitats. Recognizing this, SARA promotes habitat protection through voluntary stewardship, and prohibits the destruction of critical habitat once it is identified in a recovery strategy.
These strategies are due one year after listing for endangered species and two years for threatened species. However, in many cases deadlines have been extended, and critical habitat is left unprotected during this delay.
While SARA allows for emergency protection orders to immediately safeguard critical habitat, the federal government has thus far refused to issue any.
In January 2006, the first 16 recovery strategies required under SARA were due. As of May 2006, recovery plans have been approved, encompassing just 7 of the species due in January.
Every day that a recovery strategy is overdue is a day that species habitat remains unprotected. Once identified in a recovery strategy or action plan, critical habitat is automatically protected— but only within federal jurisdiction, a far too limited realm to provide for Canada’s terrestrial species at risk. As a “safety net,” SARA allows for federal protection orders that “can only apply on provincial or private lands if provincial legislation or other measures are not already in place to protect the species, and if cooperative stewardship measures fail.”
The Act specifies no situation in which the safety net must be used. Protecting critical habitat is thus possible under SARA, but it is not required.
Habitat protection is also possible under SARA through voluntary stewardship, conservation agreements, or regulations to implement recovery plans. However, while the Act requires action plans that specify concrete recovery measures for listed endangered and threatened species, it gives no deadline for completion or implementation of these plans. Thus the Act dedicates considerable resources to understanding why a species is at risk and how best to recover it, without requiring that a single recovery action be taken.
Provincial and territorial governments have not always adequately protected critical habitat for species at risk on non-federal lands. To meet SARA’s goal of preventing extinction, the federal government must be more willing to implement the Act’s federal safety net.